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We've hated internal email for so long, but only a few businesses have got rid of it altogether.
Accepting it as a necessary evil, here are eight ways to reduce the bureaucracy of email, and make office life more bearable and your organisation more efficient.
1. 'Four sentences'
In a recent correspondence with PR Matt Mirandi, I noticed his email signature, which declared: "Q: Why is this email four sentences or less? A: http://four.sentenc.es"
If you follow the link you'll see the remarkably simple premise - limiting the length of email responses (where desired). Short emails can be composed and the signature explains that far from being curt, the intention is to increase the efficiency of communication.
Anyone who works in a busy administrative job understands the burden that email can become. Being able to respond quickly, with brevity, perhaps in lower case, with little care for grammar or courtesy, can be a massive help.
This is an elegant solution to a particularly British dilemma.
2. An internal blog
The privacy of email is a problem. It does not offer an easily searchable history and can detract from the ease with which employees can assess the progress of a project. Even when using project management software in tandem (e.g. Basecamp), this problem still exists.
One solution which Automattic (the parent company of WordPress) uses is the internal blog. This blog uses the P2 theme (try it here) and allows different teams to maintain their own pages, where people can comment and search for information.
Such a solution immediately gets rid of small talk, and pushes all project conversation into the open. Email may still prove its value, but not as a way of keeping record.
The P2 theme developed by Automattic
How many emails do you get each week to which you simply want to reply TL;DR (or indeed, do reply as such)?
When managers send out emails to explain decisions or events, reams and reams of text is often not the best format. Why not try short form video with subtitles? Not only is it easier to digest but it gives management a face.
Brief highlights and a transcript should be provided, too, and the video should live in a central location (blog again?). With video an increasingly common format of communication thanks to messaging apps, and production a hell of a lot easier, with quality achievable even on a smartphone, it should be part of internal comms.
Even if you think this level of production is something you're unprepared for, experiment with apps such as Apple Clips that may offer a quick-and-easy solution to subtitling.
Oh, and silly as it sounds, if you're linking to a video from an email, do so via an embedded screenshot of the video - it just makes the whole thing more tangible and will increase clickthrough rate.
4. Don't check your emails in the morning
When you get in at 8.30 (each to their own), use the first hour of the day to do some actual work, rather than wading through emails.
Later in the day, when correspondence starts to pour in, you can deal with emails knowing you have already gotten some work under your belt.
I won't dwell on Slack - most readers will be familiar with it, if not in practice then in theory.
Slack is a chat tool that encourages group communication and better prioritisation of messages, through a well-designed user interface and functional search and notifications.
6. Stand ups
How to encourage less email? More face-to-face meetings.
This can be achieved by committing to a regular standup meeting. It could be weekly or daily, but the important thing is that a standup be quick and efficient (hence why it happens standing up and not in a meeting room).
Not too many jokes or chatting about the weekend, no navel-gazing digressions, just a sharing of jobs done, jobs to be done, and anything of note in relation to current projects or sprints. Standup meetings are characteristic of agile teams.
What comes as a set, along with standup meetings? Walls, of course.
By that I mean space with which to visualise the status of your projects. The more important information you have on display, the fewer update emails that have to be sent - just go and look at the wall.
8. Cloud platforms
The fancy version of a wall is a cloud platform. I have recently written about the trend for content marketplaces which include a cloud platform for workflow management (invoicing, storage, comms, sign-off etc.).
Of course, software as a service has existed for project management for quite a while, but you should be encouraged to look for further solutions, such as in HR. Though clunky software or poor implementation can lead to further bureaucracy, if it's done right it can reduce email.
At Econsultancy we have been using Motivii for a number of months and I've found it to be a useful way for staff and managers to check in on the major challenges and tasks of the week ahead. These tools are not silver bullets, but if you find the right one for you, you're on to a winner.
There are doubtless many other things to try, when attempting to reduce email bureaucracy. The key points are to value transparency, searchability, brevity (where achievable), varied forms of communication, co-location, and a commitment to questioning the status quo of outdated process.
Let me know in the comments below if you have implemented your own solutions or hacks.